It is week 164 of our new reality, and we are focused on what else we can do for students to help catch them up from the worst disruption in education in our history.

“When students fall behind, they don’t just catch up naturally … It is magical thinking to expect they will make this happen without a major increase in instructional time,” write Tom Kane and Sean Reardon in a powerful op-ed for The New York Times. “If we fail to replace what our children lost, we — not the coronavirus — will be responsible for the most inequitable and longest-lasting legacy of the pandemic. But if we succeed, that broader and more responsive system of learning can be our gift to America’s schoolchildren.”

How close are we to giving students the gift of a better education system?

We may not be very close at the national level, but local innovations are pointing a way forward. Last time in this roundup we led off with a recent quote from Bill Gates: “the amount of experimentation and top-down system reform that’s going to come from the federal government after the Obama period will be very modest … The action has moved, you could say, to the state, district or classroom level.”

The debate about why we have seen so little truly innovative ideas at the national level continued to roll forward over the past week.

In a Twitter thread, Chalkbeat’s Matt Barnum observed “It’s pretty remarkable that national Democrats/the White House have failed to articulate a clear affirmative policy agenda on education … Instead they’ve gone with: Be nice to teachers (not an actual policy), Don’t do book bans (not an affirmative vision), Increase Title I funding (appealing to the critical voting bloc of ‘education wonks on twitter’). If their policy vision is ‘increase public school spending,’ they haven’t managed to talk about it in a way that seems designed to appeal to the public.”

Former NPR reporter Anya Kamenetz also chimed in: “Basically they’re like ‘nothing works, so let’s do that!’”

Of course, something does work.

While the White House has seemingly lost interest in bold K-12 innovations, at the state, district and classroom level we are witnessing a new era of education reform being born from the ground up. Founded on believing in better, this new agenda includes free summer learning and high-dosage tutoring for every student, a dramatic expansion of school choices, transparency for and accountability to families, new pathways for careers, and new opportunities for open and connected learning in communities and beyond.

It is a positive and constructive agenda being built one school and one state at a time and we are thrilled to be a part of this push to deliver on these promises for America’s children.

Last time, we put the spotlight on a big new tutoring initiative in Louisiana and the push for a universal ESA in the Tar Heel state. This time we talk with HawaiiKidsCAN’s David Miyashiro about new wellness supports for students, computer science education and other Aloha State innovations and we explore the findings from a new EdChoice poll of America’s teens.

Say Aloha to more learning opportunities 

HawaiiKidsCAN Executive Director David Miyashiro sees the just-wrapped legislative session in the Aloha State as an essential step forward in ushering in an education system where students can learn and get personalized support both inside and outside the schoolhouse.

The drive to adapt and innovate is particularly pressing because of the stakes for Hawaii’s students graduating into such a high cost environments. “In Hawaii, one of the trends is an affordability crisis. We have to look at the K-12 pipeline of students and what we’re doing as a community to make sure that when those kids graduate, they are set up for incredible job opportunities right here at home.”

“We were very pleased with our results this session. We had two major bills pass.” David told me. “HB503 is another step forward in our efforts to ensure that all students have a clear path to a career. The bill mandates the Board of Education and Department of Education to work together on an analysis of the need and impact of making computer science a graduation requirement and appropriates funds for teacher development on computer science instruction. SB894 expands the Office of Wellness and Resilience and makes the trauma-informed care taskforce into a permanent advisory board, which is an important next step in finding solutions to growing mental health challenges students are facing across the state.”

The legislative progress on computer science and youth mental health are being coupled with two innovative pilots that David and his partners are running. The first, Hawaii Tutoring, is a program offered for free for all Hawaii students and provides virtual tutoring via AirTutors. With a spring cohort currently working with tutors, registration has opened for a summer cohort. The second pilot, Afford College, provides free, online financial literacy classes and directly works with students and families to apply for FAFSA.

  • The task this week is to get inspired by the steps forward in Hawaii to identify opportunities–through legislation and partnerships–to further the Believe in Better promises to America’s kids.

Listen to what teenagers want

Antoine de Saint-Exupery wrote, “Grown-ups never understand anything by themselves, and it is tiresome for children to be always and forever explaining things to them.” That’s where polling comes in.

A clear path to a career, mental health support and a more flexible education system are the biggest headlines in EdChoice’s national poll of American teens.

Most strikingly, the EdChoice poll reveals that teens say the top priority for school  should be creating a path to a meaningful career. When teens were asked what they thought was the most important thing to learn in school, 58% rated “acquiring skills for future employment” as extremely important, 20 points higher than “fixing social problems” and “core academic subjects.” This should add fuel to the push to scale up quality internships, apprenticeships, career education and college credit acquisition and other career pathway initiatives.

Teens also have significant concerns around their mental health. Only 29% report being “satisfied” with their mental health, 13% points lower than their satisfaction in their academic performance. The challenges that emerged during the pandemic around wellness continue to affect our students. We need an urgent response in this area and solutions that can be quickly and efficiently scaled.

And echoing older Americans work preferences in the post-pandemic country, a majority of teens would prefer some form of hybrid schooling over five days a week of in-person schooling, suggesting their desire for an education system of the future that is both more flexible and customizable.

  • The task this week is to analyze advocacy plans against this new polling and identify opportunities to deliver on what our students want.

After three years of organizing, advocating, planning and recruitment, Transform Education Now finally has a viable path to opening a new charter elementary school and high school in the Adams 14 district, one of the state’s persistently struggling districts. Chalkbeat has more on the winding story that shows the perils of local districts being the lone charter authority and the power of persistent advocacy driven forward by the desire of parents for change. The State Board of Education revoked this exclusive authority over chartering from the district last week, with Board Chair Rebecca McClellan citing that families had been waiting for years for these schools to open and accusing the district of a pattern of obstruction.

Louisiana Kids Matter Campaign saw two of its priority bills move out of committee last week and will be taken up on the House floor in the coming days. HB98, the Education Freedom Scholarship Program, would provide a universal ESA of up to $7,500 per student. HB9 also provides an ESA of up to $7,500 but focused on students with special needs, gifted and talented students and other students with exceptionalities. Taken together, the bills offer two pathways for legislators to give more families access to the education that’s right for them.

Transcend Education announced the launch of Cohort 4 of the Learner-Centered Leadership Lab. The lab is a year-long program that provides superintendents with the skills and resources they need to innovate in their districts.

Urban Institute published a research report that examines the potential effects of active shooter drills on students, finding that drills can have a negative impact on students’ mental health and well-being.

Bellwether published a report that shares the voices of students from Washington DC, finding that students are concerned about the rising cost of college and the need for more support for mental health.

CRPE published a report on student mental health that found 1 in 7 young people experienced a major depressive episode in 2021 and a warning that supply for services cannot keep up with the demand. One solution suggested: maximizing telemedicine to get services to more kids.

Brookings Institution published an article that discusses the complications of FAFSA simplification. The article found that students with siblings in college will in many cases be eligible for considerably less financial aid after FAFSA simplification than under the current formula.

18-year-old Abigail Singh, a 2023 National Voices fellow and senior at MESA Charter High School in Brooklyn, is interviewed by local television station NY1. “I used so much from the 50CAN media training,” Abigail reflected after, “Having those skills made the experience less nerve-wracking than I thought it would be.” Stay tuned to 50CAN on social media this week as we celebrate the past, current and future National Voices fellows.

Marc Porter Magee Ph.D is the CEO and founder of 50CAN: The 50-State Campaign for Achievement Now. He lives in Alexandria, Virginia.


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